Visa Crunch

Exceptions to travel restrictions offer international students hope of returning to school: US

After a year of feeling neglected, Gabriela Belasque is hopeful that she will soon be able to fully experience UCLA life thanks to exceptions to COVID-19-related travel restrictions. 

Due to travel constraints, Belasque, a first-year psychology and economics undergraduate, spent her freshman year practically attending UCLA from Brazil. 

Any foreign students with in-person programmes in the fall were granted travel exceptions by the secretary of state on April 26. Because of their high rates of COVID-19 infections, the US State Department imposed travel restrictions on China in February 2020 and India, Iran, Brazil, and South Africa in April 2021.

Students from these countries are automatically eligible for National Interest Exceptions, which enable them to access the United States for schools starting in-person training after August 1 as long as they arrive within 30 days of the start date of their programme. 

According to Belasque, the exemption is a relief because it gives international students more flexibility in their fall plans. 

According to Manya Agrawal, a first-year engineering student from India, the travel exceptions offer international students hope after the specific challenges they’ve faced.

“It’s great that they’re distinguishing between visitors and students because we live such different lives,” Agrawal said. 

Zachary Dai, a Chinese law student at UCLA, said he is looking forward to returning to the United States because the time difference to attend online classes has been challenging for many international students this year. 

International students should be accommodated in their transfer to campus after more than a year of feeling isolated from the UCLA culture, according to Agrawal.

International students must be prioritised for on-campus accommodation when in-person classes resume, according to Agrawal, so they can more easily integrate themselves into a new community and university. She also suggested that UCLA conduct workshops in the fall to help new international students adjust to their new surroundings. 

The Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars needs to be more informed about the specifics of National Interest Exceptions before students can settle into UCLA in-person learning this fall, since the policy is a little vague about the timing of approved travel, according to Phoebe Shi, a UCLA law student from China.

The Dashew Center updated its website with information about National Interest Exceptions and the policy’s guidelines, which include applying for admission 30 days before the university’s start date. 

National Interest Exceptions, according to Belasque, are generally advantageous to students and would make it easier to obtain visas after embassies have closed due to travel restrictions. 

International students face two distinct challenges, according to Belasque: obtaining a visa and entering the country. She claims that the exceptions address the problem of admission, but that US embassies are just now starting to reopen.

Due to the extreme health crisis and travel restrictions, Belasque said she felt isolated from other countries after new COVID-19 variants spread in Brazil. She is, however, upbeat now that she will be able to visit the United States in the fall.

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